How to Heal From Childhood Trauma

By the age of 16, more than two out of three American children have experienced at least one traumatic event13. A common misconception is that children are resilient and will forget what happened to them during childhood. Childhood traumatic experiences can cause many adverse effects into adulthood.

Trauma from childhood can continue to disrupt adult life if untreated. Treatment for childhood trauma can include therapy and addressing any mental health issues that may have stemmed from the trauma.

Signs of Repressed Childhood Trauma in Adults

Identifying repressed childhood trauma in adults can be challenging. Many of these signs affect adults mentally, but there are also outward signs that indicate past trauma. Repressing childhood trauma can make adult life difficult and cause many issues.

Unexplainable Reactions to People, Places, & Objects

Specific smells, noises, and environments may cause feelings of discomfort. Often, the cause of this discomfort may be related to childhood trauma. Feelings of uneasiness around a situation may be triggered without understanding the cause.

Certain people can also cause this type of reaction. This can be the body’s way of communicating that this person may be unsafe. After being triggered, feelings of needing to leave may occur due to the unresolved childhood trauma.

Sudden Shifts in Emotion

During challenging times controlling emotions can be difficult. Symptoms of repressed trauma can make dealing with and controlling emotions even more challenging.

Going from a happy state to an angry affect where lashing out occurs without understanding the cause can commonly occur with repressed childhood trauma. The sudden mood change may seem small, but it can significantly impact mental health and emotional stability. The small occurrence can easily trigger memories of trauma in the brain.

Reacting Childishly to Adult Situations

Adults are expected to react to situations maturely and make decisions appropriately. However, when adults deal with repressed childhood trauma, reactions can be immature to situations that require sound judgment. Situations that require decision-making can result in an adult returning to a child-like state instead of coping properly.

Adults with repressed trauma may:

  • Mimic people in a child-like voice
  • Throw child-like tantrums
  • Stubborn over minor situations

Difficulty Coping with Life Situations

Life often provides situations that may cause feelings of being overwhelmed or stressed. 77% of people state that they start feeling the physical and mental effects of stress because they do not understand how to manage it15.

Managing stressful situations can be particularly challenging when dealing with trauma from childhood. Spending time lashing out at others when things do not go accordingly to plan can happen when under stress and dealing with trauma. Regression to the age when the trauma began and took place can occur when triggered.

Symptoms of Childhood Trauma in Adulthood

In addition to the signs of repressed trauma, there are symptoms that childhood trauma is surfacing into adulthood. The lingering effects of trauma experienced can affect every facet of adult life.

Relationship Problems

Trauma in childhood can lead to relationship issues like developing unhealthy attachments and cycles of dependency on partners. Trust issues can arise from childhood trauma in partnerships and relationships. This can cause relationship troubles and distance between partners.

Challenges Expressing Emotion

Controlling emotions and expressing emotions can be difficult if childhood trauma has not been resolved before becoming an adult. Finding the words that accurately describe feelings may be challenging because the emotions may be hard to link to childhood trauma.

If the inability to convey emotions is present, acting out childishly may occur. Children don’t have the skills they need to cope with adult situations, and because the trauma took place as a child, this area of maturity can be stunted.

Declining Physical Health

Living in a constant state of fight or flight causes the cortisol levels in the body to remain heightened5. Originally, the fight or flight response was a survival mechanism enabling the body to react quickly to life-threatening situations. The body can overreact to stressors that are not life-threatening and trigger the flight or fight response with chronic stress.

Adverse effects on the body from chronic stress can include:

  • Increases blood pressure
  • Increased adrenaline harms the body’s blood vessels
  • Risk of developing cardiovascular disease
  • Increases risk of developing anxiety, depression, and addiction

Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE)

Adverse childhood experiences (ACE) are traumatic events that happen to children under the age of eighteen9. Trauma can come in many forms, and a series of trauma can occur throughout childhood. ACEs can commonly cause challenges with overall health in adulthood and are categorized based on abuse, neglect, and household dysfunction.


Abuse is a category of ACE that is further subcategorized into physical abuse, sexual abuse, and emotional abuse. Among American children who were abused or neglected in 2019, 17.5% were physically abused, and 9.3% were sexually abused2.

Emotional abuse includes insults and fear that physical injury may be imminent. Physical abuse involves pushing, grabbing, slapping, or hitting that results in marks or injuries.

The victim’s silence can be completed by threatening families or causing immense shame for what’s happened. When a child is the victim of physical and sexual assault but holds it in, it can cause an adverse reaction as they get older. Not knowing how to deal with the trauma can affect daily life.


Neglect is a category of ACE that can come from emotional or physical neglect. In the United States, 618,000 children have reportedly been neglected or abused, with an overwhelming majority (74.9%) of victims being neglected2. Emotional neglect stems from feeling unloved or unsupported, while physical neglect involves a lack of protection, care, food, or cleanliness.

While there are times when children are saved from neglectful situations, others continue to live in the home and endure the neglect until they’re old enough to be on their own.

Household Dysfunction

Household dysfunction is a category of ACE that is further subdivided into domestic violence, substance abuse or mental illness in the household, parental separation or divorce, and incarcerated household member. Household dysfunction can cause lasting impacts into adulthood.

New research has concluded lasting effects on children who have seen domestic violence in their lives11. As time continues, the domestic violence witnessed in childhood may manifest in adulthood challenges. Seeking out partners that are abusive in some way or exhibiting the same abusive behaviors towards a partner may occur.

Disorders Caused by Childhood Trauma

In childhood, trauma can immediately start to produce undesirable effects. Certain disorders can develop due to the direct cause of childhood trauma shortly after the experience or series of events.


Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can result immediately after exposure to trauma or develop over time6. PTSD is characterized by symptoms relating to intrusive memories, avoidance, negative changes in thinking and mood, and changes in physical and emotional reactions.

PTSD symptoms can interfere with daily functioning and cause significant problems with relationships. Symptoms can vary in intensity and length throughout life and need treatment to find full recovery. To be diagnosed with PTSD, symptoms need to be present for at least one mont

Acute Stress Disorder

Acute stress disorder (ASD) is similar to PTSD and often manifests in the same symptoms7. The main distinction between acute stress disorder and PTSD is the onset and length of symptoms. ASD occurs immediately following the traumatic event and persists for as long as one month. PTSD can occur considerably after the event and last for years.

If untreated, acute stress disorder can persist and turn into an eligible diagnosis for PTSD.

Attachment Disorders

Disinhibited social engagement disorder (DSED) is an attachment disorder where children are open and willing to interact with strangers14. Children or young adults affected by this disorder are eager to form connections or attachments with people they don’t know.

Reactive Attachment Disorder is a different type of attachment disorder where children have difficulties forming relationships with others due to trust issues and fear14. Children can exhibit social withdrawal, emotional withdrawal, and familial withdrawal with this disorder.

Mental Health Disorders Arising from Untreated Childhood Trauma

Untreated childhood trauma can lead to many challenges as an adult. Childhood trauma and traumatic events, in general, tend to be risk factors for most mental health disorders. Without treatment for childhood trauma, adulthood can become very difficult.


Everyone experiences sadness from time to time, but with depression, persistent sadness can begin to affect daily life. To receive a depression diagnosis, symptoms of depression must be present for at least two weeks and must present differently from previous functioning abilities.

Recent studies have found that many people diagnosed with depression have also experienced childhood trauma and multiple traumas10. Particularly, people with multiple childhood traumas may be linked to severe and chronic episodes of depression.


Anxiety disorders are the most common group of mental health disorders in the United States. Anxiety is characterized by constant fear or worry that can begin to affect daily life. Often anxiety symptoms are out of proportion to the actual event taking place.

Recent studies have found that many people diagnosed with an anxiety disorder have also experienced childhood trauma8. Childhood trauma is associated with a three to four times greater risk of developing an anxiety disorder.

Substance Use Disorder

Substance use disorder (SUD) is an addiction to alcohol or drugs that affects the brain and behaviors, leading to an inability to control substance use. A risk factor for developing substance abuse and addiction is exposure to traumatic events4.

Ways of Healing Childhood Trauma

Therapy can be beneficial to healing from childhood trauma. One way to heal from childhood trauma is by getting help from a professional that has the skills to help you process your trauma. In therapy, discussing trauma and triggers can help relieve symptoms.


Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is an evidence-based psychotherapy that can be used to help treat symptoms associated with childhood trauma1. CBT practices the theory that behavior, feelings, and thoughts are all connected. Changing a thought, behavior, or feeling can also cause changes in others.

CBT therapy is used to reduce symptoms and improve daily functioning with trauma. CBT can help with the reconceptualization of trauma and increase coping ability. This kind of treatment can help manage stress and plan for potential crises.


Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy is a proven therapeutic technique for traumatic experiences3. EMDR is an eight-phase process developed to be gone through with a specially trained therapist. Specific attention can be emphasized to a negative image, belief, emotion, or body sensation related to the trauma. A positive belief is established to indicate whether the trauma has been resolved.

An EMDR therapist uses bilateral eye movements to reduce sensitivity to traumatic experiences and feelings that are triggered as a result of trauma. EMDR therapy sessions typically last between 60 and 90 minutes. EMDR can be used as an additional tool alongside traditional psychotherapy or used by itself for treatment.


Prolonged Exposure (PE) therapy is a technique that can help treat trauma by confronting fears over time12. PE usually involves working with a therapist during a session and completing homework outside of a therapeutic environment. Psychoeducation during PE teaches that confronting trauma can reduce symptoms, usually within the first three sessions.

Imaginal exposure occurs in the session with a therapist and describes the traumatic event in detail in the present tense. Discussing and processing emotions raised by the imaginal exposure can be accomplished with the help of a licensed therapist. Recording may take place to help further process and practice techniques.

In vivo exposure takes place outside of therapy and is assigned as homework. Collaborative efforts are made to establish a specific place or person related to the trauma and develop a confrontation plan gradually. Emotional processing occurs in PE near the end of therapy and is used as an open discussion to review progress.

Get Help with Childhood Trauma

Childhood trauma is often repressed or goes untreated into adult life. Repressing or not treating childhood trauma can cause adverse effects in adulthood. When unresolved childhood trauma has resulted in mental health disorders, treatment may be essential to finding a happier, healthier life.

If you or a loved one are struggling with childhood trauma, contact Enhance Health Group. Our team can answer any questions you may have and give you a better understanding of our program.


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